From The Scrapbook By Rev. Bill Randall

1990 April 6

From The Scrapbook

Briggs and Little Woolen Mill Office & Warehouse Coming Down

I have written about structures that were a part of the history of the Harvey area and now only remnants of them remain to remind us of our past. This week I would like to talk about a building that is going to go! The office and warehouse of the Briggs and Little Woolen Mill of York Mills will soon be giving way to a brand new building which will include an office, a shipping area, and a small retail outlet.

Started in 1989, the purpose of the new structure is to centralize and streamline the marketing process for the 100,000 lbs. of wool products the plant handles each year. John Little, vice-president in charge of administration and sales, has invited us to come and select a souvenir board before the old building is demolished this summer–right, John?

I’d like a souvenir of a business that has affected the life of this community for probably a century.

George Lister, in the 1850’s, had a sawmill and a grist mill on the Magaguadavic River at York Mills, and at the lower falls established a woolen mill. History obscures the sequence of owner ship listing John Taylor, James Skene, T. R. Jones of Saint John, N.B., William Robison, and an English firm Moore and Robin son. It has been ascertained for certain that a woolen mill was operated by a partnership in 1910: Alex Little (1854), his son, Roy, and brother-in-law, Mr. Coburn. It was known as “Little’s Woolen Mills.” In 1916, Matthew Briggs and Howard Little assumed control, and in 1923 incorporated as Briggs and Little Woolen Mills.

Ward Little, who started work at the Mills at the age of 17, in 1948 purchased the Briggs family interest, so for many years it was Howard and Ward Little in control. Howard’s son, Roy, succeeded his father as manager, and when Roy retired in 1980, his son, John, who had entered the business in 1970, became vice-president. John Thompson, a grandson of Ward Little, is company president, having joined Briggs and Little in 1971. He is production manager.

The mill itself has gone through three destructive fires. One in 1908, rebuilt in 1911; one in 1944 (the one described by T. K. Craig as 1945 in a recent issue of the Reporter)–Kay, could it have been 1944?–because Ward and Howard had areal hassle with the federal government in order to get a building permit for a private industry–it was War Time. An other fire occurred in 1955, and the structure’ was immediately rebuilt in 1956.

Both Ward and John Thompson have had to be masters of improvisation. Not many machine companies are producing the machinery such a mill requires, so whenever and wherever a woolen mill closes, Briggs and Little investigates and if possible purchases machines or parts of ma chines.

Some of the power for the mill is water power that is to operate the machinery. For heating, an oil fired boiler replaced an original wood boiler in 1966, to produce steam, and light power is purchased from the N. B. Electric Power Commission.

In the early years of production, dye was produced from hemlock bark to provide colours from black to four shades of grey. Brighter colours were subsequently demanded by weavers and these made their debut at the mill in 1944. Presently 72 colours are offered.

As of 1990, the company employs 33 people, which does not include a sales force. The company fills mail orders from every corner of this country and a New England distributor sells throughout the United States including Hawaii and Alaska. Every few days an 18-wheeler transport truck-leaves York Mills with bags and bundles of yarn.

Those of us who live nearby have had, or, should take  the opportunity to visit the plant and see the interesting process of production. If you, or some of your family have been involved in the 100 years of this local industry, go take a long sentimental look at one of the landmarks which will be removed; not be cause of neglect but because of progress. Congratulations Briggs and Little Limited. We’ll look forward to your official opening sometime this summer.

Source: Rev. Bill Randall’s “From The Scrapbook Vol. One.”

Recommended Reading

Interested in learning more about the rich history and heritage of the Harvey region? Here are a few blog posts that might pique your interest: